Chapter 1: Don't forget the feeling
Kageyama Tobio doesn’t stare – he just looks intently. He tells himself this as he forces his eyes to focus, not even daring to blink. Across the street the second floor window is brightly lit and blindless, the soft yellow glow from the wall lamp slowly swallowing the room whole. There’s a bed and a desk with posters lining the walls, some neatly placed and some bowing over as if asking for forgiveness.
His own room is dark like the roots of his hair, and the only light visible is from the pale blue glow of the TV. Kageyama, still as a tree, just stands with his eyes glued to the window, switching every few minutes to the watch on his wrist.
There's dark circles rimming his own eyes, and Tobio wonders when he last slept, like really slept. Not the listless tumbles in his futon, eyes shut but brain wandering the universe. Not the Lunesta-induced grogginess, where he can literally feel the screws in his head.
At approximately 9:25pm, he walks in. A short man with orange tufts springing from his head saunters into the yellow of the bedroom across the street, with only a thin towel covering his body.
When had this…ritual begun? Kageyama vaguely recalls how, two months ago, a moving truck had rumbled its way across the street, a blue Beetle in tow. How a short man stepped out of said Beetle, locking eyes with him on his porch. The stranger had waved, a grin so wide on his face that Tobio wondered whether it’d split his head open. And then he realized he'd been staring.
So he rushed back inside, closing the blinds and unraveling the dark violet curtains, so that they fell to the ground over him like veils.
Kageyama does recall however that on that same day, he got a call back from a company he applied to, and was torn between breathing out in relief and slumping into his sofa.
“Don’t you think it’s enough?” said his father after the last clusters of people left the graduation ceremony. The space by the elder man's left, that holy spot meant only for his mother, was empty as usual.
“You’ve had four years of volleyball in college, three in high school, and four in junior high. Your mom always wanted you to have a low-risk job.” His father paused, and Tobio’s eyes bored holes into his own shoes.
“ What’s the chance of you making pro anyway?”
The soft buzz from the smart TV suddenly ends, and he's jolted from his reverie. There's a snake in his stomach, slithering along the empty cavern and sinking its jaws into his flesh.
The young man across the street stops by the bed, fingertips dancing, sliding towards the makeshift knot of the towel, and Kageyama wants to look away, if only for his own sanity. But he doesn’t, and he keeps watching, and his breath comes out in little puffy clouds on the glass.
He’s not gay. This is just…stress relief.
disappointment relief, beneath the towel are sky blue boxers, and he swears this would be the last time. Just like he did yesterday. And the day before. Fingers twitch. Eyebrows furrow.
Just get a fucking grip already.
Life in a publishing house is not all shits and giggles; it is a real job with real responsibilities. Especially if you work at Rose, the go to publisher for anyone with dreams of making the best-seller list in the romance category and beyond. Kageyama doesn't know how his resume was even accepted; he's never even kissed a girl in his whole 22 years on the planet, and now he's going to be some hopeless romantic's fairy godmother, trying his damn best to rise them to stardom. Or crash and burn with them. Probably his father pulling some strings again.
Even after two months of wandering the halls and staying until odd hours to finish all this work, Kageyama still doesn't know half the people in his department. They somehow flutter away into places unknown when lunch break starts, and the same seems to happen after their shifts end. No one invites him for dinner or drinks, and Tobio is beginning to wonder if they all just hate him. Well, he can't deny he hates it, too. He hates his job, he hates his boss - a blond glasses-wearing asshole whose sole mission in life seems to be making Kageyama's a living hell - and he hates the way his author can't even look him in the eye when she speaks.
"Y-yes! I mean no - I mean yes!" He groans into his hand and the small woman's face turns red, then blue, then red again. The cubicle suddenly seems way too small, and his elbows jut at odd angles against the plastic.
"Is this really what you want people to read? To look at it and say, 'yup, that's Hitoka Yachi's book, alright?' Well tell me, is this what you want?"
"I-I don't know! Waah!" The blonde little thing starts to tremble, tears threatening to burst from her eyes. "Save me Kageyama-san! What should I do, what should I do? Oh I'm going to be fired, aren't I? I'm going to be fired and never write again and die, oh my grandma's going to roll in her grave -"
"It's going to be," Kageyama lets go of a breath he doesn't know he is holding, "fine. While I'm your editor, I won't let you sink." He reaches for the tissue box conveniently placed on his desk and hands it to Yachi.
"T-thanks." She takes it, yanking out a tissue and blowing all the fear, anxiety, and snot from her nose. Kageyama scrolls through the 200 page manuscript on his desktop once more, eyeing the scribbles and red marks he placed on the margins.
"First of all, who's the main character?"
"That would be Aiko, of course!"
"Then why are the first ten pages in the point of view of a clown?"
"Wha- ah! It is!"
"I see you're being a king as usual." Kageyama looks up while Yachi shrinks into her seat. A tall blond man with boxed rimmed glasses stares back, a look of disgust smeared on his face. "Terrorizing your loyal subjects again?"
"Tsukishima...san," he adds begrudgingly, trying his best not to scowl but failing horribly at it. "What is the fine occasion?"
"Hm, nothing much. Just watching over my cute employees." Tsukishima eyes the golden haired young woman, and blinks.
"Your final draft will be submitted by printing's deadline of the fourth, right?"
"Actually, it'll be submitted by the eighth. The manuscript's no where near done yet." Kageyama's hands grip into his armrests, knuckles white.
"I asked Yachi, not you, Kageyama."
"I am her editor, and I don't deem her draft suitable the way it is now. There are major flow issues and continuity errors. Plus," Kageyama feels his blood pressure rising, "we all know the printing department's deadlines are rubbish. It's always pushed a week in advance as a failsafe for...trouble authors."
"Much like your own, yes?" The small woman's lips begin to quiver in silence.
"My author is just fine," says Kageyama, teeth gritted. Their eyes lock for what feels like minutes, until the blond man turns away first, shoulders shrugging.
"Whatever, doesn't matter to me. But Kageyama," the vice editor in chief stares him right in the face again, enjoying how he towers over the brunet, "if it's not done by the eighth then you're out." Tsukishima starts on his way through the empty lane between the row of cubicles, before stopping and turning his head. "And this time, not even daddy can save you." And then he's gone, like bad dream.
He doesn't realize the blood on his lips. Yachi pulls him a tissue, which he gratefully accepts. His bottom lip stings, tastes metallic. The space is quiet, save for the low rumbling of mutters in the nearby cubicles.
"What?" His head is pounding, and he's trying not to catch all the toxic mumbling around him, but damn he's got good ears.
"I-I don't think you're a king at all! Well sometimes you're scary and you yell at me a lot, but that's because I'm dumb and you're trying to help! If you were really a king then you'd be" she lights up, looking at him for once, "a kind king!" Kageyama stares, and then shakes his head.
"You don't have to try to make me feel better. I'm not going to break from a few words." He pulls out a schedule book from his desk, flips it open to today's date.
"Now, let's plan our next meeting."
Sitting a few rows down in a cubicle of his own, Sugawara Koushi leans over and whispers to a nearby Sawamura Daichi.
"You hear that, Daichi? Maybe he's not as bad as everyone thinks."
"Well, he did stand up for the poor girl..."
"You sure he's not just standing up for himself?" A woman with a blonde bob leans over their cubicles, blowing smoke into a corner.
"You know, there's a smoking section for a reason."
"Ah, don't be so uptight Daichi-kun. It doesn't suit your age." She still sticks the lit end of her cigarette into the potted plant on Sawamura's desk, smearing out the embers.
"That was Ai-chan you just defiled," says a displeased Sawamura.
"What brings you here, Lioness of printing?"
"Just making my rounds. Wanted to check out the king of the editorial department. He's as isolated as I thought."
"You should've seen him on his first day. No one, and I mean no one, approached the guy. Except Akaashi, but that's just to show him the ropes," Suga leans back into his chair, face twisting in mild concern. "It was like the whole team decided to single him out. I've never seen it that bad."
"Didn't he snatch away the position from Yamaguchi?" asked Daichi.
"You mean the squirrel?" Both men stare at the nonchalant woman with incredulous looks on their faces. The taller, bulkier man recovers first, opening his mouth to speak.
"Yeah, poor thing worked so hard on his project and everything. You should have seen his face when Ukai-san called some no name into the office and not the guy who's slaved 'til the night shift for months. And with no overtime to boot."
"I wouldn't call him a no name. His dad's been all up in the news lately. Pretty sure that's how he got the job anyway," chirps an amused Saeko, twiddling her blonde locks with her hand.
"Geez pipe it down guys! What if he hears you?"
He hears them alright. Kageyama curls his fingers on the pen he's holding, knuckles glowing white.
He doesn’t know when he started following that orange-haired young man to the bus stop, and frankly he doesn’t want to. Kageyama only knows that every Monday his own two feet would take him to the front door, and he would wait and hide behind the freakishly huge bush lining the sidewalk. Even though Mondays are his days off. He puts on a suit and a tie because those are the only types of clothing he owns now, besides the sweats and jerseys he wears at home and for jogging.
But today, the brunet accidentally gets on the bus, and he’s left tittering between standing like a lamppost and sitting right next to the ginger in question. He’s stiff and he’s anxious, but his face somehow corrupts uncertainty into a terrifying frown.
“Hey, um, there’s room here.”
Kageyama jerks his head so quickly he could hear his neck crack. The smaller man points to the seat next to him with a perplexed stare. “You can sit,” he says.
“...Thanks.” He falls into the seat, still rigid, still tight. The man next to him pulls out a planner of sorts, and starts leafing through the pages. Every now and then, Kageyama feels the man’s glances towards himself.
“You ok? You look kind of sick?”
“Ah right, sorry. The name’s Hinata Shouyo. I work part-time at the local daycare. The kids eat weird things off the floor sometimes, so I always got stomach medicine ready!”
Hinata closes the binder with a pop, still eyeing the man next to him. “Woah, your legs are long.”
“And yours are short.”
“N-no! Yours are just freakishly stretched!”
Hinata raises both hands in a defensive stance. “W-what? You wana go?”
Kageyama sends him a stare, eyebrows twitching, before turning towards the window. A strange knot tightens in his belly. “Kageyama.” He watches the buildings go by.
“Yes…? Oh, okay.” They’re silent for a couple moments. “Nice to meet you, Kageyama-san!”
“I said,” he clears his throat, because that’s what you do when your voice cracks like a thirteen year old fresh into puberty: “my name is Kageyama Tobio.” He’s not looking at Hinata, but still catches the orange reflection from the window.
“Oh cool! Cool! That suit must mean you're a salaryman, right? What's it like, working in an office?"
Hell. "It's...normal. You probably wouldn't like it."
"That's true. I'm still undecided for my major, and I'm already in my sophomore year." He grins. "Sometimes I just wish I can close my eyes and fly away. I mean, I can jump since I play volleyball, and that's kind of like flying but -"
"You play? Volleyball, I mean."
"Yep! I'm the ace! Or, at least I want to be."
"I used to play too."
"Really? Well, you are pretty tall. What position did you play, spiker? I bet it was wing spiker, wasn't it?"
"I was a setter." He sees the excitement drop from Hinata's face. "What?" Tobio growls.
"Setters are...I dunno, not as bwah! If you know what I mean."
"Setters control the playing field. We're what enables you spikers to hit anyway."
"Well, without us spikers, no one would hit your tosses!"
Kageyama stares, jaw tight. If he were younger, he would have called him a dumbass.
"Whatever. Are you getting off soon?"
"Cause you're really noisy."
"I'm not noisy! Your ears are just too good!" Kageyama remembers the whispers in the office, unconsciously drawing his hands around his chest.
"For once, you're right."
"Oh, here's my stop. It was nice talking to you, Kageyama-san!" The shorter boy leaps from his seat and off the bus, waving at him as the bus leaves the station.
Tobio leans into his seat, trying to keep his heart from pounding, trying not to burn into memory the most decent conversation he's had in months, when he notices a binder lying next to him. The bus is already sliding past a stoplight, and the man reaches for the purple thing curiously. Long calloused fingers flip open the cover, and dark blue eyes scan through the address and phone number written on the first page.
Lil Tykes Volleyball Classroom. 125-XX XXXX St
He almost flips the page again, when his eyes catch two words scrawled in chicken scratch on the inside of the cover.
This is definitely getting ridiculous.
Kageyama Tobio sits in his desk at Rose editorial department, fourth floor romance section. Team 3, headed by Glasses Extraordinaire, to be precise. He's boring into his computer, back straight and the perfect picture of good posture, while checking his wrist watch every five minutes. The weather report he's pulled out says there's 15% chance of precipitation, and he's relieved since he'd forgotten an umbrella again. The whole office is empty, save a few coworkers passed out on their desks, and his watch is telling him it's lunchtime. He checks his phone this time, clicks his tongue when he sees he's got no messages, and takes a deep breath.
This is not good. There's a big red X marked in three days on his calendar, fully decorated with multiple circles and triangles all in the same bloody color. He's about to get up and use the restroom when his phone suddenly rings, a loud blare of ducks quacking ricocheting throughout the room.
"Hello, Kagayama speaking."
"Kageyama-san! It's me Yachi!" Kageyama stares at the name on the caller ID, and blinks.
"Yes, I know."
"Ah, I'm so sorry, but I think I'm going to be late! Traffic's heavy and I seem to have gone off the wrong exit!" There's a trumpet of horns, and the tall, stiff man can definitely picture this. With a gentle shove, he pushes his chair in and quirks an eyebrow when something square and purple falls out of a loosely shut drawer. 'Ah, the binder.'
"It's fine, take your time." Not like he is going anywhere anyway. "I'll be waiting in the office."
"Thank you so much! Are you hungry? I'll get us some coffee, black like you like it!" Kageyama thinks about the last time the ditzy author bought him food, and how it always ended up on his face.
"No, no, I'm good. Just don't get lost again." He picks up the binder, dusting off stray grains of dirt and the like from the cover.
"Okay, see you soon!" And the call ends in a beep.
Just as Tobio repositions the binder and starts for the exit, a group of his coworkers come bustling in.
"And then he said 'no way am I going to work with that bastard!' And totally switched editors!"
"That new guy is just taking Takeda's spot. Who would've thought the old dog would make vice editor in chief before any of us!"
"Well, it's only in the Children's section..."
"But yeah, Oikawa-san is such a riot. Gotta love authors with spunk!"
"Until you get assigned to take care of them, that is."
"Hey, he's here."
The noises suddenly dissipate. Kageyama tries his best not to let his ears flush, and succeeds for once. He should probably meet Yachi in a nearby cafe instead. Yeah, that seems like a better idea.
"Don't mind me, gentlemen." And he gives his best not-smile, feeling a bit victorious when the members of the crowd just stare at the ground while softly uttering words of greetings. Just a bit.
His trip to the cafe, a hipster looking thing that goes by the name of Cafe 58, is something of a relief for him, shoulders dropping and almost all the previous tension swept away by the breeze. His phone rumbles in his pocket, and he sees that Yachi has just entered the neighborhood, furiously looking for parking around 58th St. Perfect.
As if by magic, a yellow Honda pulls in by the curb, a babbling blonde waving through the windshield. He's about to tell her to keep her eyes on the road, when the car suddenly reverses, bumping into the silver mercedes benz behind. Kageyama smacks a hand to his face, and runs over to check the whole thing. Luckily, not a scratch.
"Ahh I almost died!"
"You're most certainly not dead, Yachi-san."
"That's why I said almost!"
They're sitting in the cafe now, a window seat by the corner. The blonde author pulls out a tablet from her backpack and hands it to her editor.
"This is what I have so far!" Strong, calloused hands reach for the screen, and dark blue eyes scroll through the pages.
"This is pretty good."
"R-really?!" Yachi gapes at the sullen man before her, eyes widening comically and jaw dropping low to her chest. 'Is she trying to catch something?"
"You did exactly as I asked, and then some. I can definitely feel the strong and pure emotions of Aiko's maiden heart," says Kageyama, perhaps a bit too monotonously. He watches as steam rises from the poor girl's scalp, mouth flopping like a fish. He sips his ice coffee, relishing the bitter tang with his tongue.
"T-t-t-thank y-you!" Seems like he overheated her hard drive. Whoops.
"But we still have two more days. It's up to you if you want to hand this into printing now. You already agreed to the layout and color of the book cover, right?"
"Yes!" Kageyama nods, a rare not-scowl crawling on his face.
"Good. Thanks for being responsible." 'I was in a pretty tight spot.' "We'll definitely get you on the best seller's list." With that, Yachi Hitoka is practically bouncing off the soft cushion, drawing the eyes of a few men from across the room.
"Ah, I've been meaning to ask Kageyama-san, but what is that you're holding?"
"Oh, this?" Kageyama looks down, and sees that same purple binder peeking out from his bag. 'That's strange, I could've sworn I left it back.'
"I found it on a bus." He's not lying. He technically did find it laying on the plastic seats.
"Oh, does it have a name and address?"
"I-I think you should give it back. The owner must be very worried!"
There's a rare glint of fire radiating from the usually cowering author's eyes, and Kageyama finds himself nodding. Must be the whole small animal thing. They talk for a bit more, just professional, work-related things, and before long it's already time to clock out.
Kageyama takes the subway home, a hand sneaking into his bag and gripping the one thing that doesn't belong to him in there. His free hand is clutching on to a pole, and he's sandwiched in between crowds of people, when he suddenly gets off a stop early. Once he realizes his mistake, Kageyama's feet are already leading him out the station.
The streets are full, noisy groups of teenagers loitering around, and a few of them snicker when he walks past. Especially the females. He fights the urge to glare back, but figures it'll just be a waste of time and effort. Who knows what goes on in those hormone-driven skulls. Ah, that's right.
Before he knows it, Kageyama is standing in front of a brightly painted building. The words Lil Tykes Volleyball Classroom is in huge font on the flowing banner. The bell over the front door chimes as he walks in, and he's greeted by a short young man by the counter, hair styled in tall spikes with the middle bangs dyed the brightest of gold.
"Picking up a tyke?" The other man's eyes are sharp, as if daring him to say yes.
"Uh, no. I'm here for-"
"Grr Noya-san, the kids are crazy today - waugh!"
Kageyama and Hinata stare at one another, the latter hopping back and pointing a finger.
"You know this guy, Shouyou?"
"Ah! Yes! Kageyama-san, right?"
He could only nod blankly, the tips of his ears starting to burn.
"What are you doing here?"
"Uh, I, you left this." And he pulls out the binder. Noya watches their interaction with inquisitive eyes as Hinata squawks and throws his arms out.
"There it is! I was looking for it everywhere!" A large luminious grin. 'Like sunshine.'
"Thank you so much!"
"You're welcome." Kageyama's standing there stupidly, trying not to picture the orange-haired angel in that tight little towel, when Noya suddenly coughs.
"Hey Shouyou, why don't you keep your friend company for now? Me and Asahi can hold down the fort." Kageyama widens his eyes, attempting to shake his head.
"No - we're not -"
And so he's swept up like the rest of them.
Hinata ends up taking Kageyama to a park just a few blocks away. He's skipping on his feet, mouth running like a leaky faucet, and the editor finds himself thinking this is nice.
"And then Noya-san was like 'you're not getting away that easy!' and plops a huge sloppy kiss on to Asahi-san's mouth! In public! Asahi-san couldn't even stand near him without blushing for days!"
Kageyama watches the orange haired youth cackle, who suddenly jerks his head to face the taller man.
"Well you've been quiet this whole time. Don't tell me you're against gays." A note of displeasure is hidden beneath the bright smile, and Kageyama catches himself flinching.
"No - I don't really have that strong of an opinion on that." 'As long as they leave me alone.' He tries hard to forget that slim waist, that tan silky skin -
"That's good." Hinata smiles, honestly this time, and Tobio could feel his heart flutter. "Would've knocked some sense into ya otherwise."
As they enter the park gates, Kageyama suddenly feels self conscious, and scans his eyes across the field. They're the only grown men there without kids.
"Why are we here?"
"Whadaya mean?" Large caramel eyes peer into his. "Why else would I bring a volleyball?"
And then his eyes finally catch the red, white, and green ball, wrapped snuggly in a netted bag tossed over Hinata's shoulder. The ginger throws it over to the setter.
"Toss it to me."
Dark blue eyes narrow, and even darker brows furrow. Kageyama is glaring full force at the round object, trying to understand the whirlwind of emotions currently crashing into his form. His breath hardens, and his grip tightens, rough practiced hands squeezing the ball in a death grip.
"What are these?" His father slams the stack of test papers on to the coffee table, and Tobio watches as the red splattered sheets scatter to the ground. His right cheek stings, but the boy doesn't rub it, doesn't want to give the elder man the satisfaction.
"You think your mother would want to see this? That her son's been too busy playing volleyball to care for his future?"
He's not crying; that's just sand in his eyes.
The elder Kageyama clicks his tongue, starting for the exit.
"It's not as if you're any good at the sport anyway."
He rubs at the nonexistent tear in his eye and sighs.
"I'll toss." Kageyama spins the ball on his index finger and starts to set. He throws the ball up, as if it just bounced from a receive, and uses his two hands to launch it with unparalleled precision at the ginger's direction. Hinata springs up at the same second, poises, and spikes at the red, white, and green thing, eyes shut tight. It goes flying up a tree.
"Woah! That was awesome!"
The setter cannot explain the jolt of something zipping through his veins, the rush of heat crawling on his skin. His heart is thumping like crazy in his chest, and he's so dizzy, so happy. His hands still remember the curve of the ball. He doesn't even realize his vision fogging up. 'Ah, so it was like this.'
"Wah! Why are you crying?"
Kageyama lets the emotions flow. He sniffles and his nose is full of snot but he doesn't care.
"What do you mean?" A bunch of little kids walk by, backpacks jiggling, staring and pointing at the strange tall man while they rush to the swings. Using a quick arm, Kageyama wipes at the dampness on his face.
"It's just rain." And then he does something rare: he smiles for the first time in years. Hinata smiles too, hesitant at first, but then brightly and strongly, not quite understanding the current situation. The ginger still stands there though, hand lightly rubbing the other's back, sharing the quiet moment together.
'It was like this the whole time.'
It was then when Tobio's phone receives a company mailing list email, with the title "URGENT" on the subject line. An excerpt from a magazine article spans the full length of the message space.
10 time Best-Selling Author leaves renowned publishing house. Oikawa Tooru rampages again.
Chapter 2: The sleeping dragon
First off, has it really been ONE YEAR?!
Thank you for taking the time to read this story of mine. It's very slow-paced, so I understand if it seems boring at first ;_;
But to those who are still reading this, thanks for sticking with me. I'll make sure it's worth it.
Kageyama wakes up with the full force of a train.
He falls off the mattress, throat itchy and eyes still a bit puffy from last night. It's been awhile since he cried so hard, and it sucks that a stranger like Hinata had witnessed the whole thing. Lips tighten, shivers running down the ridges of his vertebrae. How embarrassing.
As he dips his face into the cold stream from the sink's faucet, the low buzz of his phone teases his ears. Ah, that's right. After playing with a volleyball for the first time in years, he traded digits with the younger man, in between all the snot and hiccups. Kageyama feels his heart warm, a little giddy over the fact that the redhead had stuck by even when he was making a fool of himself.
Though it was a bit tricky having to convince Hinata that he lived on the other side of town. Like an idiot, he got on the same bus as Hinata going home. Luckily his head cleared up within seconds of getting off the same stop, and opted for taking a few extra laps around the neighborhood. It was all he could do from bursting into flames when Hinata asked why he was headed towards the train station. Why, indeed?
He ended up weaving a story about how he usually came to check up on his nephew, since the brat was living alone.
"That doesn't really answer my question," Hinata had said.
"I forgot he was staying over a friend's house tonight." Dark blue eyes darted left and right. "Anyway, goodbye."
"Good night, Kageyama-san! And I had no idea you're so good with kids!"
Right, if only those kids in question are fake and/or just figments of the imagination. Tobio can't recall the number of times the little things had ran away from him in tears.
After wiping his face with a towel, the tall ball of grouch checks his phone, sliding his finger down the screen. He sees a message from Hinata, a fully caps "HIII" and a short line asking to play volleyball again, since they probably won't see each other for a while. Pupils dilate and a guilty heat sears his cheeks. Kageyama struggles with the fact that he's peeked on the ginger. Just last night, in fact. That silky smooth skin and short little towel had caused some of the most vivid dreams in his life.
Not that he’d admit it, though.
He presses the back button and navy orbs catch the urgent flag of a new email. It's one from work, sent to all the workers from the editorial department, and it's one that sends shivers down his spine. Apparently, one of the best-selling authors Oikawa Tooru had left Rose, and was in the process of signing a contract with Marigold, the newer, hipper, rising rival of Tobio's company.
He could already see it now. He's going to get a lot of shit at work for this author's childish, petty behavior. And the worst part is it's not even his fault.
And shit it was.
When he gets to work, all the employees are scurrying about like meerkats in the face of pack of coyotees. Desks crooked, paper fluttering in the air. Did a tornado hit the place?
Biting down on his teeth, Tobio turns the corner into his department. He could feel the chaos stop for a moment as the heels of his shoes tap upon the carpeted floor.
When Takeda had been promoted to vice editor in chief for the Children's section, Kageyama was given the spot as Oikawa's editor. But of course, like most good things that happen in his life, it didn't end well. The golden boy of Rose refused to work with Kageyama, stating that his hair was too flat, his clothes too unfashionable. Which did hold some truths. But Tobio knows the main reason for the rejection stems from a petty, childish rivalry back in middle and high school.
Like Kageyama, Oikawa Tooru used to live, breathe, and sweat volleyball. They were on the same volleyball team in junior high, and competed against each other in high school. Oikawa's knee blew out by college, so had to quit, but apparently he was a god with the pen. The man with the million dollar smile, the swooping chocolate locks, got published before his junior year. He's been a raging success ever since.
"I think it goes without saying that a genius author like myself deserves someone more suitable," Oikawa had said, mouth twisting into a smirk so sharp, it could slice bread.
The tall, secluded man does a sideways glance. Standing a few feet away is his coworker Sugawara Koushi. His warm brown eyes seem a bit apprehensive, but there's still that upwards quirk of the lips, and at least he's trying to seem friendly.
But, he's already scurried off.
Come break time, low and behold Tobio catches Suga hanging over his cubicle.
He feels his forehead crinkle. Was it too early for another aspirin? "I'd appreciate if you don't run off again, Sugawara-san."
A sheepish grin. Hand brushing through peppered locks.
“Right, sorry about that. Would you mind accompanying me to the vending machines?”
His ears catch the low mumbles fluttering around them but pays it no mind. Takes a deep breath.
Somehow the other doesn't seem to notice the surrounding tension. The lights from the drinks dispenser are a bit jarring, a bit gawdy, and Tobio wonders why he followed his co-worker to the small crowded break room.
Suga reaches into his pants pocket. Pulls out a coin purse. A vending machine rumbles a bit and two cans of Boss coffee roll out.
“Thanks.” The pop of metal.
“I figured most salarymen don't mind coffee.” Soft laugh and a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes.
“Yea, it's fine.”
“How you holding up so far?”
Kageyama takes a sip of the bitter drink, eyes narrowing a bit from the flavor. Lips turning into that signature squiggle as he licks them.“Excuse me for being rude, but won't you get to the point?”
“Ah, sorry -”
“And please stop apologizing, senpai.”
“Well I just wanted to, uh, express my regrets on how I've treated you in the past. I didn't mean to come off as mean spirited. Just, I really am lost in how to approach you.” Palms absentmindedly spin the can in his grasp. “But, if it's worth anything, Daichi and I, and the rest of course, we're really sorry about yesterday's gossip. Oh woops.”
“What do you mean, don't know how to approach?”
“How can I say this, hm... Well for one you're always so tense. Maybe loosen up a bit?” Suga stops playing with the metal container, stares Kageyama right in the eyes.
“If you smiled more, people might take you differently."
Tobio blinks, tearing his gaze from the bright glare of his laptop. Fingers still frozen on the keyboard.
It is rare for anyone to approach him during work, so to have two co-workers purposefully converse with him within the span of one day is sending all sorts of frightful images to mind. It’s unwarranted, but Tobio finds himself secretly dreading the current situation. Jaws tightening as he braces himself.
“What's the matter?”
“Tsukishima-san is waiting for you in his office.”
The walk to the editor-in-chief’s room, while in reality a few meters away, feels like a mile. Kageyama keeps a stony face as he passes by the maze of cubicles, hands balled into fists and clenching harder and harder as he feels the flurry of glances directed at him. As he hears the pin prick of silence engulf him whole.
And truth be told the large, cush room is certainly befitting of a vice chief editor. Tsukishima sits at the back behind a grand desk. Behind him lies a towering window, the blinds drawn and dancing from the draft. His hands are folded on top of the smooth surface. Eyes unblinking hidden behind thick frames, a hint of a smirk on his features.
“Sit down,” says Tsukishima.
A couple seconds run by before Tobio slinks into the unoccupied seat. It's soft, well-supported, but somehow the brunet finds himself wishing he was back in his rickety chair. The tension and awkwardness is biting at him, and Tobio opts to quirk the corners of his mouth upward. Lips peeling back to reveal sharp incisors. Is this how it works again?
“Are you having a stroke?”
Kageyama feels his cheeks burn and scowls.
“What was it that you needed me for, Tsukishima-san?”
A brief moment of silence, stillness. Then that signature, smug expression.
“I read Yachi’s updated draft. It’s good. You did well with the adjustments.”
Kageyama feels his eyes pop, his jaw drop.
"What, can't I compliment an employee of he's doing well? That's what being a boss entails."
The vice editor-in-chief shuffles over a binder to his employee. Kageyama takes it, flipping over the cover to view its contents.
“These are the fliers and pieces of your rejected proposal from last month. Yachi's last novel did surprisingly well, so we're doing a book signing event for her.”
“Yachi’s debut novel sold over 3,000 copies in its first week.”
“Indeed. It was a combination of luck, genius marketing strategy, and blood, sweat, and tears. Pity the girl suffers from nerves.”
“Why was my proposal rejected?”
“I dislike you Kageyama.” There's a glint to those lenses, concealing dark pupils. “But even I would not stoop so low to have my personal biases cloud my judgement. Your proposal was just lacking.” Tobio's superior flashes that same pompous mug. “Well, at least there were a few parts worth salvaging…”
He doesn't talk about Oikawa's resignation, and Kageyama is not sure if he's tense or relieved. A bit of analysis on the growth of Yachi's cult following, among other things. Like Oikawa, her last editor had also been Takeda, but unlike the frivolous man, Yachi accepted Kageyama with open arms.
“Ah, right there's more. Your other author, the one you've yet to meet since he’s been, ahem, researching in Hawaii. He's finally returned.”
“That's great.” He'd been wondering when he’d finally get to see the guy.
“Yes...and no. There's a bit of an...issue, you see.”
“But of course.” Tobio sighs, a bit of his soul escaping with his breath into the atmosphere. “What's the problem?”
“Tanaka-sensei has failed to submit a rough manuscript as planned. Instead, he has been secretly submitting shorts to our magazine Lily under a different pen name.”
Tobio hears the unspoken demand from his superior. He's your author. Fix him.
“Such talent should not be wasted on a lesser printed medium,” Tsukishima continues.
“Tsukishima-san, I understand you do not hold novels and magazines to the same prestige, but don't you think it's unprofessional to talk down our company’s branches?”
“I’m just saying it as it is. If you’ve ever read any of this author's works and possess an ounce of literary appreciation, you’d likely come to the same conclusion as I.”
“Somehow I find this hard to believe,” says Kageyama. The blond man shoots him a look, mouth morphing into a dissatisfied squiggle. Like he just witnessed something undesirable. Like he's tasted something rotten, foul.
“Anyway, your newest author is impeccable and unrivaled when it comes to pure-hearted romance.” The vice editor-in-chief leans back into his seat.
If Yachi's works are known as lovey-dovey dramas with a dash of innocence and smut mixed in between, then this author's works are the pinnacle of a maiden's heart. He’s lazy though, prone to escapism through "research," but when they got down to working, the novel always manages to monopolize the tween to college-age group for women, sometimes for several months ongoing. They call him the Sleeping Dragon for that reason.
His name is Tanaka Ryuunosuke.
“If you manage to get Tanaka-sensei to submit his rough draft by next month, then I might forgive you for losing our most popular author.”
Tsukishima hands him a folder that has all the information about this author. Everything but the most important, basic details, it seems. Contact information of all things being one of them. The door to the vice editor-in-chief's office shuts behind him with a muted slam.
Tanaka Ryuunosuke. Kageyama searches the top of his head for any leads. It isn't as if Tanaka is a common surname, so maybe if he runs it by Google...wait.
“Oh, Ryuu? He's my brother.”
The lioness of the Printing Department, Tanaka Saeko, pops open the top of the can of coffee. Chugs it.
“Do you know where he lives? I'm supposed to meet with him but his address and contact info aren't listed in the files.”
“Hm, well he's probably at our old place. Our parents separated back in high school but our grandmother left us a house.” Saeko brings a hand to her chin, striking a contemplative stance. “Since I'm living with my boyfriend, he's had that place to himself. Here's the address.”
Kageyama takes the slip of paper and does a quick bow. “Thank you so much!”
"Wait, what about these?" Saeko points to the three cans of sweet drinks resting on the break room table.
"You can keep them, those are for you. Since I didn't know which one was your favorite." And Tobio speeds out the door, round the corner.
“Huh.” The woman rubs her cheek with her raised hand. Licks her lips. A bit bitter but laced with sweetness. “Didn't see that coming.”
Tobio stares at the address scrawled sloppily on the yellow post it. Shoots his hard gaze at the mansion in front of him. Dark brow twitches.
When he rings the doorbell, no one answers, but he does see the curtain of the second floor bedroom move. A rush of adrenaline courses through his veins, erupting into newfound determination.
“Hey!” His finger jabs at the shiny, ornate doorbell. “Hey! Please open the door! I can see you in there!”
A creak, squeaking floorboards, the loud thumping of footsteps. The door suddenly swings open, and Kageyama sees a belligerent-looking man, head nearly shaven and eyes blood-shot.
"Hello, I'm Kageyama and I am your new editor from Rose Publishing."
"Hah? I don't need that. I'm a freelance writer now, yeah." He tries to close the door but is blocked by Kageyama's foot.
"I just want to talk!"
"I'm done talking! Move your damn foot or I'll break it!"
"Your talents shouldn't be wasted on a trashy magazine. Let's face it - no one reads it and the viewership's been declining since the initial release! I couldn't wrap my mind around why such a -" he struggles for the right word - "pillar of Rose's strength is wasting away like a retiree. Let me guess: it's her, isn't it? It's all about her." Who 'her' refers to Kageyama can only guess, but it seems he hit the nail right on the head.
"H-how did you -"
"I'm your editor, Tanaka-san." He places two hands on the balder man's shoulders. An unknown spark sets off in Tanaka's form.
"Call me Ryuu," he says, eyes suddenly lit with fire. And then, a bit huffily: "Tanaka-san's my sister."
The inside of the mansion is even more spacious than the outside would lead one to believe. The ceiling is tall and so are the windows, long navy curtains draping over hardwood floor. Tobio recalls Saeko referring to this estate as a mere house. What a disservice, calling it that.
"Would you like some tea?" says Ryuu,
Kageyama takes in the view of Tanaka, 5- o'clock-shadowed, eyebrow-less Tanaka, holding a flower-patterned tea kettle over the counter. Swallows.
It's quiet after that. The only sound exists as the soft trickle of tea pouring into matching tea cups. Kageyama takes the cup in front of him. Goes for a sip.
"When I was twelve, I had my first love."
Tobio nearly sprays what little herbal liquid is in his mouth.
"She was...majestic. A Goddess. I've never seen anyone like her."
"So, love at first sight?"
"Yeah. She was picking up a family member from school and I was just a runt, I walked right into her but she didn't even mind. Took out a handkerchief and asked if I was okay."
"And I still have it." Ryuu reaches into his breast pocket, the one closest to his heart. Gently lays a piece of cloth on the kitchen table, though not before giving it a hard squeeze. The name Kiyoko S. is stitched in cursive at a corner.
"But a couple months ago, Kiyoko-san - she -" His face crumples. "That man, he better treat her well or I'm gonna -" He stops mid-sentence. Takes a deep breath.
"Go on, I'm listening."
"After that day, I just didn't think I could write no more," says a hardheaded Ryuu with snot dribbling down his nose, "but no matter what I did, no matter how much I tried to forget, love just kept appearing. I can't write anything else! I should be happy for Kiyoko-san, I really should, but there's no way a man can just sit back and accept this! That's why," he swallows, hanging his head low, "even if I do have something written for the manuscript, I'm too ashamed to finish it."
And softly, as if so that no one else could hear but himself: "Why did I wait so long..."
Tobio sits and stares at the man before him. A man with shuddering shoulders, trying his best not to let the snot dribble down his nose. This is so outside his area of expertise...
"Well, I'm guessing you've yet to receive the official wedding invitation."
Tanaka shakes his head.
"You have? Did you reply yet?"
The same head shake.
"Hasn't it been months? Kiyoko-san must be waiting for your response."
"I can't face her." Pulls the edge of his tee to his nose, blows it. A dark stain blooming like petals from a rose. "I wouldn't know what to do."
Tobio pinches the bridge of his nose. He reaches for the tea cup again. Takes another sip.
"A man doesn't run away.” It seems like the right thing to say, because the sniffling and verbal diarhea takes a halt. “Anyway, in the meanwhile we need to finalize the transfer of editors and plan, just plan, Tanaka-sensei, the makings of the final draft."
"I told you you can just call me Ryuu."
"Maybe...when we're alone." And then, he pales. By gods, he didn't mean to make it sound so... questionable. Just that it probably wouldn't fare well for him if a certain blond-haired glasses-wearing demon hears them.
They agree to meet again the next day, after a bit of hard persuasion on Kageyama's part ('you''ll be stuck in this slump forever'). But when he returns, the front door to the mansion stays locked. Tobio paces around the trimmed, neat lawn like an idiot, trying his best to catch the smallest flicker of curtains. But this time around, the windows give nothing away.
After jabbing the door bell for what seems like minutes, and inwardly cursing to himself, Kageyama is left with no choice but to leave. Slips a hand inside his briefcase. Pops a couple aspirin into his mouth.
Things are not looking well. He still has to finish planning the book signing, and he has enough people breathing down his neck already. His back pocket suddenly buzzes and he jerks forward. Oh right. He's got a cell phone.
Sliding an index finger across the screen, Tobio realizes there's a lot of unread messages. A majority of them from a certain redhead.
>>how r u!? wana play volleyball sometime?
>>r u busy?
>>sorry for bothering u so much )8
It's been days since he's replied to any of Hinata's messages, it seems.
<< Sorry, I've been busy at work. It's been really hectic.
And...sent. Kageyama is about to put his phone back into his pockets when it suddenly buzzes again.
>>wahaha u type like an old man
>> do u need help with anything? i look like this but im actually pRETTY smart!!1!!
There's a heat clouding his cheeks right now, though if you ask Tobio why, he probably won't be able to come up with an answer. Long, thin fingers, the pads of which are rough with calluses, poke hesitantly at the touch screen keyboard.
<< I have a bit of an issue at work. You know how I work in an office?
>> yea u wear a suit and everything !!
He feels bubbles in the back of his throat, holds back a chuckle.
<< It’s actually a publishing company. I’m an editor.
A whole three minutes roll by without a response from Hinata.
>> wow do u work for shounen jump??
Tobio rolls his eyes.
<< I said publishing company, not manga. I edit novels.
He can imagine Hinata's face right now, probably pouting in a way the redhead thinks looks threatening.
>> ill pretend I didnt hear that )8<
>> and thats still amazing!!!11! I didnt kno u were so snart
<< Apparently not so much. My boss is about to fire me if I don't get this author Tanaka Ryuunosuke to hand in his manuscript.
<< He’s refusing to meet with me.
Crap. Kageyama probably shouldn't have said all this. He's re-reading his own texts in the conversation and feeling progressively more embarrass each time. It's almost like he's venting. Oh, god -
>> DONT WORY KAGEYAMA-SAN IF I AM RIGHT EVERYTHING WILL BE OK
<<What? What are you planning?
And then, in the span of half a second:
>> its a surprise :D
So, now it's attempt number three.
Even though this isn't the first time Kageyama has stood in front of the Tanaka estate ( there's still no way he’d let himself think this is a house), the tall, disgruntled looking man feels himself suck a large breath of air while taking in the view. Hinata is right beside him, bouncing up and down and the picture of boundless energy, but for some reason on another he seems unfazed.
He’s not sure how Hinata managed to tag along with him, only a text saying “its still this address right,” and Tanaka’s house number and street displayed. To which Kageyama just replied “Sure?”
“Stay here while I ring the doorbell.”
Tobio sighs into the cuff of his sleeve. As much as it is a pleasant surprise to see the short redhead, he can't help but think the entire situation strange. Even stranger is that he's going along with it. The world must be going mad.
The button of the doorbell sinks in with each jab of his index finger, but the front door still stays closed.
“I know you are in there Tanaka-sensei! Stop delaying our meeting! No matter how much you try to deny it, time doesn't stop for anyone!”
Nothing, not even a peep. He clenches his fists, body trembling from frustration.
Tobio jerks his head to the direction of the noise, eardrums buzzing and a bit numb. Somehow Hinata's gotten right next to him, cheeks flushed from shouting and amber eyes glowing with intensity.
“Come out, you shitty senpai!” Kicks at the door.
Panic shoots through Tobio's form, and he's caught between just standing there in shock or picking up the exploding shortie then getting the hell out of there. At this rate, not just Tanaka, but the neighbors would call the cops.
"Such a loser! Stupid bald head! I can't believe you held on to a crush for 11 years!"
And Kageyama can see his life flash between his eyes. Just as he's feeling cool sweat dripping down his back, the door swings open.
"Shut up! There's no shame in holding an unrequited love for so long!”
Orange eyebrows dip, nostrils flaring and caramel orbs narrowing, instigating. The flames in those eyes growing brighter and brighter.
“You say that but you're here alone in that big house while that guy's marrying her already.”
“Haah?! Fuckin shortie! It's the manliest of manly actions to love and watch over her from afar!"
Oh crap, if he doesn't stop them now -
Time freezes, the earth stops rotating on its axis, and the entropy of the universe is no longer increasing. If someone told Tobio that today would be the day he'd live, die, and come back alive, he’d probably just roll his eyes. But. Now.
“You're the coolest guy I know. Who else can write what's in a maiden's heart as well as you do?"
Hinata opens up his backpack, takes out a box with a loose lid. Lifts the top to reveal all the novels and short stories from anthology clips saved up. But perhaps more illustrative, more telling, is the familiar cursive scribbled on the margins of each work, little notes and words of praise. Of encouragement. With shaking hands, Ryuu picks up one of the clippings, lips trembling as he takes in that handwriting.
"K-kyoko-san," says Ryuu in between sobs. "L-love...kuh..."
To Ryuu Tanaka
You have been cordially invited to Kiyoko S. and ----.'s wedding on xx xx xxxx at
Sendai Wedding Hall
We hope to see you there!
Attend Not attend